College Basketball

Early Look at the Top Candidates for the 2015 Wooden and Naismith Awards

Scott HarrisFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

Early Look at the Top Candidates for the 2015 Wooden and Naismith Awards

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    Frank Kaminsky will return to Wisconsin next season.
    Frank Kaminsky will return to Wisconsin next season.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    This would be college basketball's hot stove season if it wasn't just so doggone pleasant outside. 

    As it is, this is more like cool-lemonade season. But don't let the shorter sleeves and westerly air flows fool you. This is a white-knuckle time for hoopheads waiting to learn whether their squad's best player will leave school for the NBA draft.

    But even so, spring is a time of renewal and whatnot, and so it's fitting that we now celebrate those who are returning to their college teams for the 2014-15 season or stepping on the stage for the very first time.

    These are the seven players who have the best chance of really standing out next season and are the early (very, very early) favorites to win Naismith and/or Wooden player of the year honors. 

    Though players have until April 27 to formally file their draft papers with the league, there is already a sense of which elites will stay and go. This slideshow, listing players in no particular order, is comprised of those who have already announced their desire to stay in school or who presently seem reasonably unlikely to move to the next level just yet.


    Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

Nick Johnson

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    Jae C. Hong

    Class next season: Senior
    School: Arizona
    Position: Guard
    Key 2013-14 stats: 16.3 ppg, 43% FG, 37% 3FG, 2.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 

    The stay-or-go metronome is operating at "Flight of the Bumblebee" levels for Nick "Not The Baseball Player" Johnson. What we do know is that his more-ballyhooed running mate, Aaron Gordon, is a lock for the lottery and is almost certainly gone. 

    If Gordon goes and Johnson returns, this will be Johnson's team next year, and the team will be good. If the coin flip goes against the Wildcats, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could be poised for his own breakout year, though that would probably not be the kind of campaign you would expect from Johnson, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year.

Aaron or Andrew Harrison

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    David J. Phillip

    Class next season: Sophomores
    School: Kentucky
    Position: Guard
    Key 2013-14 stats (Aaron): 13.7 ppg, 42.3% FG, 35.6% 3FG, 3 rpg, 2 apg
    Key 2013-14 stats (Andrew): 11 ppg, 36.7% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 3.2 rpg, 4 apg

    Call this one a tie—I guess. I couldn't pick just one.

    Both of these guys were surefire one-and-doners before the season, but a poor regular season has pushed them down (or off) more than one draft board. 

    That might force the four hands of the two most talented twins in basketball into staying another season in Lexington, Ky. And thanks to their remarkable dual Big Dance runs (a stretch that might also have helped the lesser-regarded Aaron pull even with brother Andrew, thanks to Aaron's clutch game-winning play), they could be in the thick of the nation's elite when the curtain rises on the next campaign. 

Frank Kaminsky

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    Jae C. Hong

    Class next season: Senior
    School: Wisconsin
    Position: Center
    Key 2013-2014 stats: 14 ppg, 53% FG, 38% 3FG, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.7 bpg

    Dang. That's what you call filling the stat sheet.

    During that unlikely but convincing Final Four run, the gawky Kaminsky was Wisconsin's unlikely but convincing leader, overstuffing the box score in the process with 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. 

    Immediately after the Badgers lost to Kentucky, Kaminsky told the media he'd return to school. Sure, he doesn't win many style points, but he's seven feet tall, he hits threes, and he can play in the paint. Unless they all stumble off a cliff next season, the Badgers—and Kaminsky—will be right there again.

Jabari Parker

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    Gerry Broome

    Class next season: Sophomore
    School: Duke
    Position: Forward
    Key 2013-14 stats: 19.1 ppg, 47.3% FG, 36% 3FG, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.1 spg

    It wasn't long ago that Jabari Parker's departure (by the seashore) was a foregone conclusion. But it was even less long ago that word came out about Parker wanting to return after a disappointing Blue Devils tourney run. And now, with a report from Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times that Parker has reserved campus housing for the next academic year, signs may be pointing (for the moment, at least) to a repeat performance:

    #Duke source: Jabari Parker housing set for soph year. Could still turn pro, but shows he's seriously considering staying. #NBA #Sixers

    — Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) April 9, 2014

    And that could spell trouble for the rest of the country—with a capital T, that rhymes with D and that stands for Duke. More on that in just a second.

Fred VanVleet

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    Fred VanVleet (left)
    Fred VanVleet (left)Bill Boyce

    Class next season: Junior
    School: Wichita State
    Position: Guard
    Key 2013-14 stats: 11.6 ppg, 48.4% FG, 42% 3FG, 4 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2 spg

    Yes, the Shockers were "shocked" in the tournament's second round. But they did pretty good before that, if I remember correctly, and Fred VanVleet was at the tip of the spear.

    The team lost Cleanthony Early to graduation, but VanVleet is purportedly returning, as is Ron Baker. VanVleet finished fourth in the country in assist-turnover ratio. That's pretty good, and there's no reason to think he can't or won't improve.

    In fact, this entire team will be good again—maybe better. And its do-it-all leader, VanVleet—one year better, one year wiser, one year hungrier—will again be right in the hunt for national honors. This past season he was a Naismith semifinalist, and he's likely to do that and better in 2014-15.

Marcus Paige

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    Gerry Broome

    Class next season: Junior
    School: North Carolina
    Position: Guard
    Key 2013-14 stats: 17.5 ppg, 44% FG, 39% 3FG, 3.2 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.5 spg

    Every list needs a dark horse. Here's mine.

    Paige doesn't have the world's greatest assist numbers for a point guard, but he makes up for it with his penchant for scorching defenders and getting lots and lots of buckets.

    The Iowa native was first-team All-ACC and a second-team All-American this past season, and has confirmed he will return via Twitter (h/t Gary Parrish of CBS Sports). James Michael McAdoo departed for the draft, but the rest of the squad remains intact, with Paige at the helm gunning for a deeper tourney run and a higher national profile.

Jahlil Okafor

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    Andrew Nelles

    Class next season: Freshman
    School: Duke
    Position: Center
    Key 2013-14 stats: N/A

    With the Harrison twins, Parker and other standouts like Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis and plenty of others making big impacts, it's clear from this season (if it wasn't before) that freshmen can be key cogs in a successful college basketball squad.

    Next year, Jahlil Okafor could be the next big thing among those next big things.

    At last week's McDonald's All-American game, no other high school big man could handle Okafor, who went off for 17 points and seven boards. That led his team to a victory and himself to co-MVP honors for the game (along with UNC-bound Justin Jackson).

    With the Blue Devils next season, Okafor could do things like that plenty of times. He's skilled, athletic and super tall. And he could be the biggest star in the country, no matter what it says on his student ID.

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